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Obesity rates are still on the rise in the US. Researchers think the pandemic only made things worse

Bathroom scale obesity
Posted at 10:03 AM, Sep 17, 2021

There's more evidence that the pandemic has contributed to another public health crisis — an increase in the obesity rate.

New federal data shows that 16 states have adult obesity rates of 35% or higher. That's an increase from 12 states in 2019 and just nine states in 2018.

The problem has exploded over the last two decades. In 2000, no state had an adult obesity rate of 25%. Today, there are only a handful of areas where the obesity rate is currently below 25%.

The nonpartisan, non-profit group Trust For America's Health has been tracking the issue.

"It's about the design of our neighborhoods and ensuring that neighborhoods have walkable and bikeable paths, that people have the ability to engage in physical activity or access to parks and community centers and gyms," Trust For America's Health CEO and president Nadine Gracia said.

The group says high obesity rates have a systemic, social, and economic impact on the country — and the pandemic has only made those issues worse.

In communities of color, the obesity rates have an even higher impact.

The new data shows that 22 states had adult obesity rates at 35% or higher among Hispanic residents. For Black Americans, 35 states have obesity rates at 35% or higher.

"We see, for example, higher job loss and greater food insecurity in households of color," Garcia said. "Black and Latino households had greater rates of food insecurity (during the pandemic). Their children were in virtual learning as opposed to in-person learning, with less access to school meals."

The report from Trust For America's Health points to larger policy solutions, like increased funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's obesity prevention program. Garcia says that the program currently only has enough money to support 16 states.

"We should close tax loopholes and business incentives for unhealthy food advertising, which disproportionately is directed to youth of color — in particular, Black and Latino youth," Garcia said.

The CDC is now providing community-level data on obesity so it can be addressed on a more local level.